When big is an understatement Opulence may be great to look at, but hard to live in.

February 10, 1997

WHAT IS THE appropriate housewarming gift for someone who owns a house with seven bedrooms and 10 bathrooms? A road map and a compass so the residents can find their way to the kitchen? A bullhorn so they can call the kids to dinner? A dust rag to wipe off one of the infrequently used toilet seats?

Oversized and ostentatious houses are back in vogue. The Preserve, a Howard County development that was featured in The Sun last month, is typical of the new subdivisions that feature gargantuan houses -- some with more than a quarter-acre of floor space.

These "monster mansions" illustrate what happens when people build houses that are better for showing off than for living. To describe them as opulent might be an understatement.

Colossal is perhaps the more appropriate adjective: Living rooms the size of horse barns. Walk-in closets with enough shelves and racks to accommodate an inventory akin to the men's department at Nordstrom. Bathtubs big enough for lap swimming. And kitchens with enough cook tops, ovens and refrigerators to feed the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. The homes are built with only the most expensive materials, too -- marble flooring, granite counters, gold fixtures, leaded windows.

Many economists claim that as a nation, Americans spend a disproportionate amount of their income and invest an especially excessive amount in shelter. If less money was sunk into housing and more into savings, they suggest, the nation's overall economic performance would be significantly better and more competitive with countries such as Japan, where the population is less-well housed.

Obviously, that line of argument is not convincing to the people occupying these multi-million dollar houses -- or those who would love to own one. The people who covet these large abodes should remember that opulence does not necessarily translate into comfort. Plenty of other people entertain daydreams about living in a house so big, but ultimately can only identify with the anonymous quote of one resident of The Preserve:

"This [house] isn't my dream," he confided to a reporter. "My only dream is that my kids grow up healthy and happy."

Pub Date: 2/10/97

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